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There are some non-recreational activities, such as aerial photography, wildlife observation, environmental monitoring, etc., that seem well-suited to certain amateur-built aircraft. The open-cockpit Lockwood AirCam, which I understand was specifically designed with back-country nature photography and videography in mind, is just one example. Yet FAA regulations relating to airworthiness certificates appear to make no allowance whatsoever for an amateur-built experimental aircraft to be used for non-recreational/non-educational purposes. Am I misreading the regulations? Is there a legal way to use a homebuilt airplane for, say, commercial aerial photography?

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  • $\begingroup$ If you build an aircraft and use it for commercial activities, you are not an amateur, even if what you do is illegal. Potentially, an amateur could build an aircraft and then give or lend it to someone who used it for commercial activities. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 23:37

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Not necessarily. You would have to comply with §91.319 (a) which states:

No person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate—

(1) For other than the purpose for which the certificate was issued; or

(2) Carrying persons or property for compensation or hire.

So commercial activities which don’t require carriage of a person or property for compensation or hire are permitted in an experimental category airplane, so long as it was not certified as a light sport under §21.191(i) which limits such aircraft to be used only for glider tow or flight instruction, subject to the limitations of §91.319 (e), (g).

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  • $\begingroup$ You just need an faa letter of authorization. That’s how you can charge for rides on powered parachutes, weight shift etc $\endgroup$
    – user959690
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 21:10
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According to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), aircraft with Experimental/Amateur-Built airworthiness certificates cannot be used for commercial purposes. However, I cannot find an FAA reg that specifically says that. (Anybody else know of a reg that says that?)

There are other grey areas as well. For example, what if your insurance is requiring dual instruction in the type before they will issue you a policy? The CFI would be using your aircraft for commercial purposes, even if you can legally claim you're the Pilot-in-Command.

However, the FAA talks about what things you cannot do without a commercial pilot license -- fly passengers or cargo for hire. My suggestion is that if you want to use your amateur-built aircraft for commercial photography, call your local FSDO and ask about that. Be nice to them and you'll be impressed how nice they can be to you.

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    $\begingroup$ 91.319 and 21.191 are the regs you're looking for. There's no problem with instruction, by the way; 21.191 specifically allows it, and if it's your aircraft then the CFI isn't the operator anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ the local FSDO can’t give waivers for that kind of thing. The only way to do it would be to get a Legal Interpretation from the Office of the Chief Counsel, but since the regs are unambiguous that’s not likely to happen. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ Talking to your FSDO is not about getting waivers. You don't need a waiver to do something that is not prohibited by the regs, and the regs do not prohibit aerial photography. Private pilots are already allowed to operate aircraft for aerial photography and get paid for the photos, not the flying. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ I wasn't aware of that last statement ("private pilots are allowed ... to get paid for the photos"). Is there an FAA legal interpretation or advisory circular that makes that position clear? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GrantPetty That was true, but it isn't any more. The FAA issued two interpretations: one said a private pilot could operate an aerial photography business; the other said it needed a commercial pilot. The tiebreaker is the Perry interpretation which says you need a commercial pilot. Makes sense to me: how could flying possibly be "incidental" to an aerial photography business? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 16:08
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A experimental aircraft can be used by a corporation for busines purposes. However, an experimental aircraft cannot be used for commerical purposes such as paid passengers or paid cargo.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! For questions like this it's usually helpful to link to a regulation or another official, reliable source. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ I'd think that flying such an aircraft in an airshow, to show off its capabilities to pilots/builders who might purchase the plans/parts, would be both allowed, and also categorized as "business purposes." $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ @RalphJ A corporation generally won't use an Experimental Amateur-Built, except possibly as a club a/c. For your use, it would have an Experimental Market-Survey certificate. This is what most kit manufacturers' factory built planes have. If they just want to use it for show and advertising, there is Experimental Exhibition (this is what most ex-military a/c have). If they're doing flight test (of the a/c or components on the a/c) they get Experimental R&D. Each has its own set of restrictions. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 13:17
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So I asked Phil Lockwood about this. His take is that if you charge say a commercial cameraman for flying them to do photography then you will cross the FAA line. However if you use the Aircam as a tool for your own purposes, then you are unlikely to have a problem. A number of books have been published using an Aircam for aerial photography. https://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Lewis-Clark-Across-America/dp/0974920711

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  • $\begingroup$ and who's this Phil Lockwood? $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Federico: is the guy who designed this. $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 21:04

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